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The Predictive Mind Paperback – 28 Nov 2013

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More About the Author

I conduct interdisciplinary research in the areas of philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience (see my publications below). In my lab in the philosophy department we conduct experiments on the nature of perception and cognition. I collaborate with a number of neuroscientists and psychologists from Monash University and around the world. For the next few years I am on a fellowship that allows me to focus exclusively on theories about brain function, which say the brain is primarily a sophisticated hypothesis tester.

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This is a wonderful and deep book. I have heard it said that it heralds a paradigm shift in cognitive neuroscience and perhaps neurophilosophy. It is an eloquent and accessible synthesis of recent advances in theoretical neurobiology, as they apply to the human brain and mind. I confess that I had thought about writing a book addressing the more technical themes but having read The Predictive Mind, I feel curiously complacent and content, because this book says everything that needed to be said and much more. (Karl Friston, University College London)

Every now and then a book appears that looks set to be a milestone in the interdisciplinary study of mind. This is one of those rare and important books. The core organizing principle of mentality itself, Hohwy persuasively argues, is the prediction of our own ongoing streams of sensory input. Hohwy applies this principle to cases ranging from simple sensing all the way to hallucinations, delusions, consciousness, emotion, the sense of presence, and the nature of the self. A wonderful, timely, ground-breaking treatment, and required reading for anyone interested in the nature and possibility of mind. (Andy Clark FRSE, Professor of Logic and Metaphysics, University of Edinburgh)

About the Author

Jakob Hohwy is a philosopher engaged in both conceptual and experimental research. He works on problems in philosophy of mind about perception, neuroscience, and mental illness. At the same time, he collaborates with neuroscientists and psychiatrists, conducting experiments that put philosophical ideas to the test and that bring philosophical concerns into the lab. Hohwy completed his PhD at the Australian National University, his Masters degree at St Andrews University in Scotland, and his basic philosophy training in Denmark. He has set up the Philosophy and Cognition lab in the Philosophy Department at Monash University in Melbourne.

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
A very interesting hypothesis, more hypotheses needed 23 Jan. 2014
By Stephen E. Robbins - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is an extensive treatment of the thesis that the brain employs Bayesian prediction to determine our perception of the world. Hohwy has obviously thought about his subject deeply, illustrates/explains the principles well, shows great familiarity with the group of thinkers (e.g., Eliasmith, Friston, Gregory) that are main sources of this view, and produces a remarkable effort at extending this principle through various areas to which it could apply. These areas include extremely interesting explications of various illusions, particularly a class of illusions involving, or variants of, the "rubber hand," also inattentional blindness, attention, as a possible causal factor in delusions and mental illness, and more. Within are some remarkable implications for the nature of the "self" and our experience thereof. It is a conception and a work I consider to have a deep core of essential merit and is an essential read.

In this framework, following its early originator, Helmholtz, "...perceptions are regarded as similar to the predictive hypotheses of science, but are psychologically projected into external space and accepted as our most immediate reality." Thus the "problem of perception," as Hohwy argues at the start of the book, is how the right hypothesis about the world is shaped and selected. The brain is seen as maintaining a generative model of the world, an internal mirror of nature that recapitulates the causal structure of the world, and prediction error is minimized relative to the model's expected (hypothesized) states. In an inversionary twist, perceptual inference is always trying to use its prior knowledge to predict and suppress (yes, suppress) the sensory input the system is receiving. Thus, rather than the "bottom-up" data (received from the external world) being used as the material to create the perception, it is the predictive model best fitting or minimizing the error that is actually perceived.

Here I must add some critical observations. What this internal predictive model could actually look like, embodied as it must be in chemical-neural flows, how it could possibly look (in the brain) like my experience of the kitchen with its table, its chairs, and my hand with spoon stirring coffee in a cup on the table, and how this internal model is "projected into space," i.e., how, from this internal, neural-based "hypothesis" we obtain an image of the external world - these are questions one instantly (and impatiently) presumes that the book will quickly deliver on. But in an unfortunate structural aspect of the book, we wait until about 200 pages in to hit the disclaimer that, "this is not intended as a proposal that can explain why perceptual states are phenomenally conscious rather than not," that this is merely, "a proposal that describes the states that are conscious... [via] those representations of the world that currently best predict the sensory input," and that it "does not intend to touch the hard problem" (i.e., Chalmers' hard problem of consciousness).

Clearly, this Bayesian framework is at best a partial answer; it is a computational piece of the puzzle, but just a computational piece. There is no true, concrete dynamics involved - where by concrete dynamics, I mean a dynamics as concrete as that of an AC motor generating a field of force. Computations alone cannot account for consciousness. While clearly aware of this, at least to some extent, Hohwy yet tries to take the framework into explaining Searle's Chinese Room, i.e., how such a Bayesian network could account for the conscious understanding of an event which is created via the mediating device of a string of linguistic symbols - "The man stirred the coffee with the spoon." But he does not acknowledge that beneath this sentence-created event perception, lies the same difficulty as that beneath the hard problem of explaining the origin of the image of the kitchen, chairs and coffee-stirring spoon.

Events. While Hohwy describes the earlier-mentioned "causal structure of the world" (captured/recapitulated in these hypotheses) in terms of invariance (regularities) which exist over various scales of time, the discussion of these is very abstract, the concept of invariance seeming very limited - almost entirely in terms of "causal regularities," e.g., dropping an egg to the floor => a broken egg. Missing is any reference to ecological psychology and J. J. Gibson, a discipline and theory where the regularities have a precise mathematical structure - texture gradients, gradients over velocity flows, tau ratios, adiabatic ratios, inertial tensors, etc. Strangely missing too is any reference to (or attempt at integration with) the premier Bayesian model of the perception of dynamic form (Weiss, Simoncelli and Adelson, Nature Neuroscience, 2002), a model simply and concretely employing mathematically specified constraints (priors) upon estimates of the optical velocity flows of Gibson (for a review, "On Time, Memory and Dynamic Form," Consciousness and Cognition, 2004). All of these - the flow fields, inertial tensors, adiabatic ratios, etc - comprise the structure of invariance defining even the little event of "coffee stirring." It is a structure where the invariants are defined over time - an extended, flowing time. As Gibson argued, these invariants cannot exist in an "instant" or be transmitted as "bits" over the nerves. It is this dynamic structure over time that is arriving in the brain as the "bottom up" information - to be compared against an operative hypothesis and suppressed. is this very same dynamic structure that would have to be incorporated within - would have to define - this operative "hypothesis" of the stirring event that is being "projected" as our experience. What would the "matching" or comparison process (this is in reality a "comparator" model) of these two dynamic structures (hypothesis vs. the invariance structure of the dynamically changing external event) possibly look like? How are such structures - intrinsically dynamic flows - stored in the brain? Or can they be? How are such events retrieved, memory-wise, to become "an hypothesis?"

The invariance laws/structure defining events, the deep problem of the elementary memory that supports our perception of time flowing events such as the stirring spoon (which is a problem of the nature of time itself), the problem of storage of such events in the brain (there is no actual theory of event storage), the mechanism for their retrieval - these are just some of many subjects that need to be addressed in this conception. In a word, the predictive brain, despite its promise, or indeed because of it, will need to get very serious about the actual nature of its own hypotheses.
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